BEREA — The Browns were there when it happened. Ndamukong Suh’s first step toward becoming one of the most demonized players in the NFL.
During the 2010 preseason, just months after Suh was the No. 2 pick by the Lions out of Nebraska, he grabbed Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme by the helmet and threw him to the Ford Field turf like a ragdoll.
The Browns have seen Suh every year in the preseason, but Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium is the first time they’ll meet in the regular season. His reputation preceded him to town by a few years.
“He’s a good player off the field,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “I don’t care for the extra-curriculars and personal fouls.”
Suh, a defensive tackle, was fined $100,000 earlier this season for a low hit on Vikings center John Sullivan behind the play on an interception return. He was fined $30,000 last year for kicking Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin area. He was suspended for two games in 2011 after grinding Green Bay lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s helmet into the ground, them stomping on him. He’s also been fined for roughness against quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Jay Cutler.
The pattern of bad behavior started with Delhomme.
Cleveland center Alex Mack was there that day as he started his second season. Mack has gotten into his share of scrapes, isn’t afraid to speak his mind and once accused Shaun Smith of grabbing his private parts during a game. But he bit his tongue Thursday when asked if Suh’s a dirty player.
“I am not going to answer that,” Mack said.
He believes he can keep his focus no matter what Suh does, but isn’t thinking about Suh’s history.
“You can’t worry about that stuff,” Mack said. “You worry about your play and your game and what we are going to do and what actually matters, which is play on the field.
“We’re trying to play football here.”
Suh moves around the line, but spends the majority of his time at left defensive tackle. That means Mack and right guard Shawn Lauvao will be largely responsible for handling the 6-foot-4, 307-pound athletic freak who ranks second among tackles since 2010 with 24 sacks. He had eight last year, along with eight tackles for loss on runs.
“He’s everything you want in a defensive lineman,” Lauvao said. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast. He’s real instinctive.
“You’ve got to be on point when you’re playing against a good player like that.”
Lauvao didn’t take issue with any of Suh’s roughness penalties.
“If you ever want to be that good, O-line or D-line, you have to have some attitude,” he said. “I respect that.
“I think that’s one thing that’s lacking in the NFL. There’s not too many guys who have some juice to themselves. It’s a good thing.”
Lauvao returned to the lineup Oct. 3 against the Bills after missing the first four games following arthroscopic ankle surgery in the preseason. He played 62 of 68 snaps, with Oniel Cousins taking a series in the first half. Lauvao said the ankle held up well.
“I’ve been busting my butt off these past couple months,” he said. “Fortunately I have good people in my corner, coaches, guys around the building, so the transition wasn’t too bad.”
The offensive line has improved on a weekly basis after a terrible first two games, with Lauvao the latest boost. It’s faced a tough defensive front each week, and Detroit’s follows suit. Tackle Nick Fairley was the 13th pick in 2011, and end Ziggy Ansah was the fifth pick in April and has 3.5 sacks.
Suh makes the front four go. He was a Pro Bowler in 2010 and ’12, All-Pro in 2010 and Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was voted a captain this year, and has 2.5 sacks, 17 tackles and a forced fumble.
“He’s been outstanding,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s made an impact in every single game. He’s good against the run and the pass.
“It goes beyond his stats. He’s also set up a lot of other players to make big plays. He caused some interceptions, he’s taken up some double teams that led to sacks from other people. When our defensive line plays well, we play well as a defense. He’s obviously a big part of that.”
During a conference call with Northeast Ohio media, Suh was greeted with several questions regarding his reputation as a dirty player.
“I think people may have their opinions and people have their agendas,” he said. “People who have voices can make those things happen. People are always gonna have their opinion.
“I really don’t like to waste my energy to worry about what people think of me. I think the most important thing is how my teammates respond to me and how they appreciate me.”
Suh said the suspension and fines haven’t affected his game.
“I’m never gonna change. I don’t know how many times I’ll have to say it,” he said. “I’m gonna continue to play blue-collar football and find ways to help my team be successful from the defensive line standpoint and be dominant to where offenses have to recognize me and respect me and have to look out for me every single game. If I do that, I think that I’m on the right path to being what I want to be at the end of my career, which is somebody who played a great game of football and had a great career.”
Suh was articulate and calm during the call. That’s the friend Browns rookie linebacker Eric Martin knows from Nebraska.
“He’s nothing like he is on the field,” Martin said. “I think he transforms when he gets on the field. Because off the field he’s one of the coolest dudes to hang around.”
Martin said Suh didn’t have the same dirty reputation with the Cornhuskers.
“He’s never been like that,” Martin said. “That’s why I don’t see him like the person that people say he is.”